Oct. 5, 2014. We have been in Paris more than a month now. This is the first blog I’ve written and it’s not about Paris. It’s about traveling to southern Germany and what we have discovered about ourselves and travel.
This may sound like a travel-log, but for us, it was following -or perhaps leading- in the footsteps of the main characters in our novel-in-progress. We know we most enjoy traveling when we have a goal for the travel. Our rally through Africa (May, 2014) was like that and so was this trip. We went with a purpose, to experience several different settings for our story.
We took the train to Munich. Arriving during October Fest, which for us was only an inconvenience. We rented a car and proceeded to our first stop, Wernberg, Germany near the Czech border (that’s significant to the book.)
We picked a castle hotel, Hotel Berg Wernberg which dates from 1280. This castle had been a hotel for only 16 years and before that was privately owned. Imagine that. We ate our first 2-Michelin Star meal. Once we had selected our meal, we were presented with our personal menu, signed by the chef. Our characters, Sam and Renate, spend a weekend here and we came away with many details to add to our book.
The stop in Wernberg actually was planned for another reason. Much of the novel takes place on the U.S. Army base in 1952 in Grafenwoehr some 15 miles from Wernberg. Ed was stationed here for air observer school in 1957-58, and Sam was in 1952. We wanted to get on the base to refresh Ed’s memory (I’m sure Sam remembers it all). No more grass airstrip and enlarged barracks houses Germany military as well as U.S. troops.
Mr. Franz Zeilman, from the office of public affairs was our enthusiastic host. He spent much of the day showing us around the base and making sure we had the opportunity to visit the air field and all the areas we wanted to see. The only disappointment was discovering that there is no longer an Officer’s Club (which does play a role in our book) . The building is there and it is now the (water) Tower View restaurant. We made one more stop in Vilseck.
Next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen where Sam and Renate spend a winter weekend and rode the cog train to the top of the Zugspitze. We had been here before and it is unchanged. Still a beautiful Alpine village. We walked the same streets, crossing the Loisach river just as Sam and Renate did. It’s hard to imagine that this town looks any different now than it did in 1952.
Last stop was Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzberg. We really wished we had planned more time for this stop. Since our story involves people who lived here during Hitler’s conversion of the Obersalzberg into his second seat of power, this was an important stop. It is hard to imagine this beautiful, peaceful area as the headquarters for the most horrific regime in modern times. Yet this is the setting his propaganda machine used to portray him as “a friend of the children, close to the people, and a good neighbor”. (by the way, he took over the land and bought out or drove out the owners of the houses for his own purpose.)
Then back to Munich and a train back to Paris. Our on-the-ground research was done. We saw picturesque villages, spectacular mountains and met friendly, helpful people. We learned much that will make changes and additions to our novel. And we learned our travels are more meaningful when we have a specific reason for the trip. Guess we’ll just have to continue to write in exotic settings.
Jan and Ed